Nature Column: Great time to spot moths, day and night

Stamford Mercury nature columnist Corinna Hoptroff
Stamford Mercury nature columnist Corinna Hoptroff
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This is the first of a new Mercury column. It’s written by Corinna Hoptroff , a retired health lecturer who has kept a keen interest in the natural world since she was a young girl. She and her husband Charlie frequently go for walks around Stamford but rarely get as far as they would like, as they have their heads down inspecting interesting beetles or plants.

Corinna, who lives in Conduit Road, Stamford, hopes to share her enthusiasm with readers. Each month she will give a glimpse of the kind of flora and fauna you can spot in your gardens and further afield.

September is a fantastic month to see moths in the gardens in the Mercury area and you do not have to wait until dark to discover some of the 2,500 species we have in Britain today.

The Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma) for example, is a day-flying moth. You may have noticed it while gardening when it flies up from hiding places among the shrubs and plants.

Look carefully where it settles so that you can get a closer look. It is deep grey-brown in colour with a tiny 
“Y” pattern on both wings giving it its distinctive name. Its other distinguishing features are the two hair tussocks on its back.

The Silver Y is a common moth in this part of the world but if you want to entice it into your garden just plant lots of flowers! The Silver Y can also be spotted at dusk and you may see it in the house in the evenings when it is attracted to bright light.

Another day-flyer to look out for this month is the Vapourer moth (Orgyia antiqua), a lighter, more orange brown than the Silver Y, giving it its other name, the Rusty Tussock.

It has two distinctive white “eye” spots on its wings and the most delightful feathered antennae.

Male Vapourers can be seen camouflaged against bricks and trees. They are often out in the day in search of their female counterparts who, like some other members of the natural world, do not sport the same attractive garb as the males.

Female Vapourers are small and flightless and stay attached to the cocoon throughout their lives, laying eggs on the outside of this structure in a variety of deciduous trees such as oak and birch. Once fertilised by the males, they will produce two to three broods in one season. After laying their eggs the females die.

The Vapourer caterpillar is peculiar: usually brown with red markings and lots of humps, tussocks and bristles, rather like a toothbrush!

Take care though as they can be an irritant to the skin.

If you are out in the evening you may see The Snout (Hypena proboscidalis), a night-flying moth with extended palps giving it the appearance of having a long nose.

These moths can be found flying in groups over nettle patches and, at rest, look like dead leaves - a way of camouflaging themselves against predators.

You may be wondering how to distinguish moths from butterflies.

As a very general rule butterflies close their wings vertically at rest so that only the underside of the wing is seen.

Moths, however, open their wings at rest or hold them in a dome shape over their bodies making their rich markings fully visible.

If you want to encourage moths and butterflies, always leave uncultivated areas in your garden where they can thrive.

Enjoy these creatures but never touch their wings as this will cause them harm.

For further information, join a moth “trapping” event, publicised locally or online. Happy moth hunting!